Identify a major social issue in The Book Thief and discuss how it has been presented to the reader.

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An major social issue addressed in The Book Thief is individual responsibility to oppose unjust government policies and practices. In the novel, this issue is explored through non-Jewish German people’s efforts to protect or aid Jews, whom the Nazis persecuted, imprisoned, and killed. The Hubermanns risk harsh retribution by hiding Max. Rudy also learns how to help the Jewish prisoners after Hans is punished for feeding them.

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Throughout novel, Markus Zusak explores the importance of individual responsibility in ethical and moral terms. The author shows how personal beliefs are put to the test when people are confronted with unjust government programs and actions that are ostensibly directed only toward members of other groups. In such a situation, each individual must decide whether they will overtly resist such injustice or more subtly undermine its effects, and if so, how. In the setting of Germany during World War II, this topic is basically presented in relationship to the Nazi regime’s violent persecution of German Jews.

The actions of the Hubermann family provide an ongoing illustration of individual actions to counter state-sponsored violence. Hans and Rosa, who are not Jewish, decide to hide Max in their home. They are fully aware that if he is found there, all three of them will be severely punished and possibly killed. Liesel, even though she is just a child, must decide if she will participate in their deception.

The positive and negative effects of resisting the government are also shown through the related actions of Hans and Rudy. When the Nazis round up Jewish people and march them through town, Hans tries to help the prisoners by giving one of them bread. The soldiers violently attack the man who accepted the bread. Hans’s courage has a positive effect on Rudy. The boy is inspired to help prisoners and figures out how to avoid being caught and punished: he places the bread on the ground where they are sure to pass so they can pick it up, but far ahead of them so that he will not be observed doing so.

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